Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’d Want on a Desert Island


Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish. This week’s Top Ten list is a freebie, so I checked out the archives of previous topics that I missed. My eye was immediately caught by Top Ten Books I’d Want on a Desert Island, even though it makes me feel rather panicky to imagine having only ten books to read and reread for the rest of my life. How could I possibly choose? What would my criteria be? Do I dare bring a book I’ve never read before? A La Recherche du Temps Perdu might be a fine choice, since it’s over three thousand pages long, and if I really wanted a challenge, I could bring along a French dictionary and read it in the original. But what if I hated it and never wanted to reread it? And so it seems best to stick with books that I’ve read or at least dipped into.

Still, it’s challenging to choose. Do I want to be entertained or made wiser by my reading? Mostly, I think, I would want a balance of comfortable books to sink into and live in and challenging books to make me think and wonder.


If I had to select one perfect book, it would be Emma. The characters are some of my favorites in literature. Mr. Woodhouse and his gruel. Miss Bates’s incessant chatter. Mrs. Elton’s upstartish ways. Mr. Knightley’s quiet disapproval. The situations never fail to engage me. And the sentences are perfect.


I think Emma is the more perfect novel, but on some days at least, Persuasion is my personal favorite Austen. Another book that I never seem to grow tired of, no matter how many times I read it.

complete essays of montaigne

Because it’s massive and will keep me very busy. Because I’ve read some but nowhere close to all. Because essays are eminently re-readable. Because Montaigne is both wise and funny.
wherever you go there you are

Because I’m stuck on a desert island and I’m going to need some perspective. And also, I will now have plenty of time to meditate.

writing down the bones

On the off chance that I have a stash of notebooks and pens, I will need a book to inspire writing, and this is the one I return to again and again. So many of Goldberg’s observations about writing apply to living as well.

i capture the castle

A novel about a precocious girl who wants to write and her zany, wonderful family. I sometimes pick it up just to admire that perfectly engaging first sentence and can’t help continuing to read. I’m not sure I’d want to live with any of the Mortmains, except perhaps for Heloise, the dog, but I sure do love reading about them.

indigo's star

If the Casson family asked me to move in, I’d definitely say yes. In fact, if they were real, I’d invite myself. All of Hilary McKay’s books in this series are wonderful, but Indigo’s Star is my favorite.

diary of virginia woolf

This is totally cheating, since Virginia Woolf’s Diaries are published in five volumes, but it’s one of my favorite books and one that I think I could read and reread many times without getting bored. I feel the same way about Woolf’s Letters (also collected in five volumes, I believe), so it might be a toss-up which to bring.

letters of virginia woolf

Oh hell, bring them both. What other book could possibly bring more pure delight and wisdom? It’s like getting mail from the wittiest, most brilliant friend you can imagine with just the right amounts of snark and humility.

king of attolia

I almost worried that I have read The King of Attolia too many times already and wouldn’t have enough to discover and appreciate as a desert island book. But then I came to my senses. Eugenides is possibly my favorite character in all of literature in what is most definitely my favorite of Megan Whalen Turner’s four books in The Queen’s Thief series. Of course I need to have it with me. Can I bring a device so I can listen to Jeff Woodman’s masterful narration of the audio?

What about you? What’s one (or more!) book(s) that would be on your desert island Top Ten?





14 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’d Want on a Desert Island”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    Wow, this list has me thinking and I loved learning all of this about you!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s a different side of my reading life, LOL. So often when I make these lists, I’m second guessing within the hour and wanting to sub different titles, but I’ve been content with this one all day. Though in no hurry to get to that desert island! Unless coffee and a bookstore are going to appear too.

  2. jkmclain3 Avatar

    I have also been participating in this blog! I chose this week to do Top Ten Books ruined by movies, so my post was a bit more depressing than yours! I have to admit that I have never heard of any of these books! If you had to choose your favorite out of them all which would you suggest having me try read?

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Love the topic you chose for your list! You might enjoy the Casson family series by Hilary McKay. The first book is Saffy’s Angel, and I think they should be read in order. Megan Whalen Turner’s series where I’ve chosen Book #3 to take with me to my desert island is also so, so good. The first book is The Thief (and it’s a Newbery Honor too so it works for our theme next week!). And definitely must read that series in order.

  3. elyjayne Avatar

    I haven’t read any of these which is kind of awkward. I’m really want to read the works of Virginia Woolf, but where to start?

    My list

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Hmmm. A Room of One’s Own or Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse. That’s where I would start, I think. I actually think I started with her essays–not sure why anymore. Limitations of my library at the time, I think. And I liked them and found them more accessible than I was imagining I would.

  4. Literary Feline Avatar

    You’ve picked some wonderful books to be stranded with! Jane Austen’s books would certainly make great companions. I don’t think I’d tire of her books, even reading them over and over and over again. It’s nice to see Emma on your list. I don’t think that particular book gets enough love.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Emma is a tricky character, isn’t she? She’s frustrating and wonderful. I don’t know a more perfect novel, though.

  5. Carrie Avatar

    I’d have to have Emma (love that cover, btw!) and P&P for sure! My TTT

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I don’t think I’d be too sad to have 6 of my 10 spots taking up by Austen novels, honestly. Isn’t that cover great? I’ve never seen it in person but I loved the image when I googled.

  6. Wyoming Jen Avatar
    Wyoming Jen

    Your list seems to have a lot of classics on it! Even if you do not have a notebook and pen, you could write in the sand with your finger!
    I really hope that taking my no-charging-needed Kindle would be a choice. However, I would for sure take my entire Gregory Maguire collection! (Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, Out of Oz, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Mirror Mirror, Egg & Spoon, Lost, Matchless, Leaping Beauty)

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Here’s a confession: I’ve never read ANY of Gregory Maguire’s books. I should totally remedy that, shouldn’t I? Love your idea of writing in the sand with my finger! And yes to that special Kindle.

      1. Wyoming Jen Avatar
        Wyoming Jen

        Definitely read Wicked! It is a bit slow at the beginning, but it will be a page turner as it goes along.

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